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- This Freedom - 4/61 -
one generation of the devoutly intentioned sat stolidly under the reproach of an enormous and thickly populated area without a church, later generations with the same stolidity sat under the reproach of an enormous church, an enormous rectory and an infinitesimal stipend, in an area which a man might walk all day without meeting any other man.
But the devout of the day, not having to live in this rectory or preach in this church or laboriously trudge about this area, did not unduly worry themselves with this reproach.
That was (in his turn) the lookout of the Rev. Harold Aubyn--also his outlook.
He is to be imagined, in those days when Rosalie first came to know him and to think of him as Prospero, as a terribly lonely man. He stalked fatiguingly about the countryside in search of his parishioners, and his parishioners were suspicious of him and disliked his fierce, thrusting nose, and he returned from them embittered with them and hating them. He genuinely longed to be friendly with them and on terms of Hail, fellow, well met, with them; but they exasperated him because they could not meet him either on his own quick intellectual level or upon his own quick and very sensitive emotional level. They could not respond to his humour and they could not respond, in the way he thought they ought to respond, to his sympathy.
He once found a man--a farm labourer--who in conversation disclosed a surprising interest in the traces of early and mediaeval habitation of the country. The discovery delighted him. In the catalogue of a secondhand bookseller of Ipswich he noticed the "Excursions in the County of Suffolk," two volumes for three shillings, and he wrote and had them posted to the man. For days he eagerly looked in the post for the grateful and delighted letter that in similar circumstances he himself would have written. He composed in his mind the phrases of the letter and warmed in spirit over anticipation of reading them. No letter arrived.
When he came into the rectory from visiting he was always asking, "Has that man Bolas from Hailsham called?" Bolas never called. He furiously began to loathe Bolas. He was furious with himself for having "lowered himself" to Bolas. Bolas in his ignorance no doubt thought the books were a cheap charity of cast-off lumber. Uncouth clod! Stupid clod! Uncouth parish! Hateful, loathsome parish! For weeks he kept away from Hailsham and the possible vicinity of Bolas. One day he met him. Bolas passed with no more than a "Good day, Mr. Aubyn." He could have killed the man. He swung round and pushed his dark face and jutty nose into the face of Bolas. "Did you ever get some books I sent you?"
"Ou, ay, to be sure, they books----"
He rushed with savage strides away from the man. All the way home he savagely said to himself, aloud, keeping time to it with his feet, "Uncouth clod, ill-mannered clod, horrible, hateful place! Uncouth clods, hateful clods, horrible, hateful place!"
That was his attitude to his parishioners. They could not come up to the level of his sensibilities; he could not get down to the level of theirs.
With the few gentle families that composed the society of Ibbotsfield he was little better accommodated. They led contented, well-ordered lives, busy about their gardens, busy about their duties, busy about their amusements. His life was ill-ordered and he was never busy about anything: he was always either neglecting what had to be done or doing it, late, with a ferocious and exhausting energy that caused him to groan over it and detest it while he did it. In the general level of his life he was below the standard of his neighbours and knew that he was below it; in the sudden bounds and flights of his intellect and of his imagination he was immeasurably above the intel-lects of his neighbours and knew that he was immeasurably above them. Therefore, and in both moods, he commonly hated and despised them. "Fools, fools! Unread, pompous, petty!"
At the rectory, among his family, he seemed to himself to be surrounded by incompetent women and herds of children.
He was a terribly lonely man when Rosalie first came to know him and thought of him as Prospero. He is to be imagined in those days as a fierce, flying, futile figure scudding about on the face of the parish and in the vast gaunt spaces of the rectory, with his burning face and his jutting nose, trying to get away from people, hungering to meet sympathetic people; trying to get way from himself, hungering after the things that his self had lost. In his young manhood he was known for moods of intense reserve alternated by fits of tremendous gaiety and boisterous high spirits. ("A fresh start! Hurrah!" when release from the school came. "What does anything matter? Now we're really off at last! Hurrah! Hurrah!") In his set manhood, when Rosalie knew him, there were substituted for the fits of boisterous spirits, paroxysms of violent outburst against his lot. "Infernal parish! Hateful parish! Forsaken parish!" after the ignominy of flight before the bull. "Blow the dinner! Dash the dinner! Blow the dinner!" after wrestling a soggy steak from his pocket and hurling it half a mile through the air. These and that single but terrible occasion of "Cambridge! Cambridge! My youth! My God, my God, my youth!"
A terribly lonely man.
The Aubyn family occupied only a portion of the enormous rectory. There was a whole floor upstairs, and there were several rooms on the ground and first floors, that were never used, were unfurnished except for odds and ends of lumber left behind by the previous vicar, and were never entered. Rosalie once explored them all, systematically though very fearfully, and also very excitedly. She was searching for some one, for two people.
In the household she knew her father and her mother, her brothers and sisters and the servants; but there were two mysterious inhabitants of whom she often heard but whom she never saw and never could find. It used to frighten her sometimes, lying awake at night, or creeping about the house of an evening, to think of those two mysterious people hidden away somewhere and perhaps likely to pounce on her out of the dark. What did they eat? Where did they live? What did they do? What were they?
One of these two eerie and invisible people was heard of from her father. Several times Rosalie had heard him, when talking to persons not of the family, speak of "my wife." The other eerie and invisible creature was heard of from her mother: "My husband."
Where were they? Of all the mysterious things which Rosalie used to wonder over in those days, this undiscoverable "wife" and "husband" were the most mysterious of all, and more mysterious than ever after that day on which, walking on tiptoe for fear of coming upon them suddenly, holding her breath and pausing in fearful apprehension before entering the untenanted rooms upstairs, she explored the whole house in search of them. She got to know all sorts of little odds and ends about them; that the wife felt the cold very much, for instance, for she had heard her father say so; and that the husband did not like mutton, for her mother told that to Mr. Grant the butcher: and she was often hot on their tracks for she had heard her father say, "My wife is upstairs" and had rushed upstairs and searched; and her mother say, "My husband is in the garden," and had run into the garden and hunted. But all these clues only deepened the mystery. They were never to be found.
It was mysterious.
Then one day the wife (she heard) fell ill, and through her great concern about that--for she was profoundly interested in these people and used to feel awfully sorry for them, hidden away like that perhaps with no fire and nothing to eat but mutton--the mystery was explained.
With the family she was going towards church one Sunday morning and she heard her father tell a lady that "my wife" was not very well that morning and couldn't come. Rosalie during the service prayed very earnestly for the wife's recovery and took the opportunity of praying also that she might be permitted to see the wife "if she is not very frightening, O Lord, and the husband too, if possible, for Jesus Christ's sake, amen."
And at lunch, having thought of nothing else all the morning, there was suddenly shot out of her the question, "Father, is your wife any better now?"
Rosalie commonly never spoke at all at meals; and as to speaking to her father, though it is obvious she must have had some sort of intercourse with him, this famous question (a standing joke in the house for years) was the single direct speech of those early years she ever could remember. She spoke to her father when she was bidden to speak in the form of messages, generally about meals being ready, or relative to shopping commissions he had been asked to execute; but he was far too wonderful, powerful and mysterious for conversation with him on her own initiative. "Father, is your wife any better now?" stood out in her later recollection, alone and lonelily startling.
There was from all the company an astounded stare and astounded gasp; all the table sitting with astounded eyes, forks suspended in mid-air, mouths half open in astonishment, and Rosalie sitting in her high chair wonderingly regarding their wonderment. What were they staring at?
There was then an enormous howl of laughter, led by Rosalie's father, and repeated, and louder than before, because it was so very unusual for the family to be laughing in accord with father. Gertrude, the maid, fled hysterically from the room and laughter howled back from the kitchen.
Rosalie's father said, "You'd better go and ask your mother." Her mother had stayed in bed that day with a chill.
Robert "undid" Rosalie--a wooden rod with a fixed knob at one end went through the arms of her high chair and was fastened by a removable knob at the other end--and Rosalie slid down very gravely, and with their laughter still echoing trod upstairs to her mother's bedside and related what she had been told to ask, and, on inquiry,
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